• Jay EuDaly

Anatomically-Based Scale Fingering

Here is the first 2-octave major scale pattern most guitar teachers teach:

I call this the "2nd-finger pattern" because the root is played with the 2nd finger. It requires a 4-fret stretch.


Contrary to common practice, here's the one I usually teach first - I call it the "1st-finger pattern" because the root is played with the 1st finger. It requires a 5-fret stretch:


Question: Why start a beginner student with an initial scale pattern that requires a 5-fret stretch instead of the easier 4-fret pattern?



First of all, a 5-fret stretch is not a big deal for any teenager or adult - as long as they have the optimum placement, hand position and fingering, no matter what size hand they have. So it's an opportunity to talk about, apply and begin to deal with those technique issues from the get-go.


Secondly, all my students have gone through the 5-Lesson Foundational Series before they get to the point where they're working on scales. One of the concepts given in those lessons is a pattern of 1st and 2nd octaves from a root on the 6th and 5th string:

These octave patterns are embedded in the 1st-finger scale patterns:

So the scale pattern is built upon something the student has already learned; the octave pattern from a 6th or 5th-string root.


BTW: Why no notes on the 1st string? There are scale tones that can be played on that string, right? Yes, there are, and in the real world I access them all the time. However, when drilling, I want the student to start on the root and end on the 2nd octave. The main reason for this has to do with ear training.


Thirdly, the 2nd-finger pattern from a 5th-string root cannot complete the 2nd octave without a radical shift:

The above pattern was called the "Segovia fingering" when I was at conservatory in the 70's. (Diatonic Major and Minor Scales by Andres Segovia.) I practiced that shift for hours - the goal was to hear no difference in tempo, tone, legato and inflection when making the shift. That fingering was the bane of my playing for a semester.


I eventually got my teacher's approval (Douglas Niedt) and moved on but I now have avoidance issues when it comes to that particular fingering! However, the level of technique-when-shifting that I attained because of it has stood me in very good stead over the many years of playing since then. When improvising I routinely make major position shifts with ease, in part because of the work I did on the Segovia fingering. So there is that.


The 1st-finger pattern that starts on a 5th-string root doesn't have this radical shift problem:

The only catch is it's a 5-fret stretch; which as I explained above, isn't really an issue given proper hand position and technique.


I prefer to deal with as few issues at a time as possible. I teach the 1st-finger pattern first, and deal with the problems involved with a radical shift later.


Another issue that is very common with the 1st-finger patterns involves fingering. Most students want to finger the 5-fret stretch 1-3-4 instead of 1-2-4:

Believe me when I say that if you get into the habit of this fingering you are going to be in a world of hurt later. The subsequent issues are too numerous to get into here; you're just going to have to trust me on that. However, I can give you an immediate reason that has nothing to do with potential subsequent issues but is based on anatomy; the structure of the hand. Take a look at these two pictures:

On the left: Fingers 1-3-4. Notice the disparity in the distance between the 1st and 3rd fingertips and the 3rd and 4th fingertips. The space between the 1st and 3rd finger is greater than the space between the 3rd and 4th finger. Yet the distance between the notes of the scale pattern are identical; one fret between each finger.


On the right: Fingers 1-2-4. The space between fingers is more or less the same - certainly more symmetrical than fingers 1-3-4. The spacing between fingers 1-2-4 corresponds more closely to the spacing of the notes in the scale pattern.


It's much easier to make a stretch with fingers 1 and 2 than it is the same stretch with fingers 3 and 4.


THAT'S why you should finger the 5-fret stretch 1-2-4 instead of 1-3-4.


There are many other reasons I require the 1st-finger patterns for the major scale. For example, it opens up possibilities for multiple variations of the Blues Shuffle that aren't possible if you're in the habit of fingering the major scale 1-3-4 instead of 1-2-4. It also makes altering various notes to get various modes less confusing. Those and many other examples are potential fodder for a future blog.


There are 6 possible optimal fingerings for a 2-octave major scale. 3 fingerings from a 6th-string root and 3 fingerings from a 5th-string root. A couple of the 5th-string-root fingerings do not complete the 2nd octave (assuming no shift). Each fingering has its own peculiarities. I'm not going to get into an exhaustive treatment of the subject here.


I only require the 1st-finger patterns from most students. If the student shows interest and initiative I'm always willing to go through the other possibilities.


If you want the other patterns you can get them here for free. However, you must be a Master Guitar School site member and logged in to view. If you are not a member, clicking the link above will open the signup form, which when completed, will then forward you automatically to the complete lesson on major scales.


In the meantime, here's a video demonstrating the 1st-finger patterns in every key around the Circle of 4ths:



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